From: Timothy Comeau
Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2005 12:24:29 -0400
Admittedly, as soon as I heard about this on this morning’s radio I turned on the television to, for lack of a better phrase, ‘witness the spectacle’. Given how two weeks ago you (CBC) suddenly dropped the Karla Homolka story in favor of a full day’s coverage to the events, and how you seem about to be doing the same thing today, it occurs to me that you are complicit in the terrorism by giving these jerks all the attention they want. Would they be so quick to set off bombs and kill and maim if they knew the media would ignore it in favour of Tom Cruise’s love-struck antics? I saw on the ticker that 15 people died in Iraq today, but you’re quite comfortable in burying that story. Breaking News story spectacles are part of the problem, and are never informative. Why not wait until you can actually inform me of something, and give me news I can use, not water cooler gossip?
Craig Francis Power has written me a couple of letters from St. John’s, the latest deals with the latest controversy with The Rooms and Gordon Laurin’s firing.
Now, while the news channels today are creaming themselves about being able to devote another full day to the crumbs fed to them by the London police, we should remember that in the long run, visual culture and literature is where a society’s memory lies, and certainly not at the news desks of CBC and CNN, where, they tell us that today’s bombing occurred two weeks after the first round. No shit. I wasn’t born yesterday.
Goodreads began partially because of what I read by John Taylor Gatto in an autumn issue of Harper’s magazine a couple of years back:
After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.
And that stayed with me. Then, last winter’s readings of John Ralston Saul drove the point home:
“There is no reason to believe that large parts of any population wish to reject learning or those who are learned. People want the best for their society and themselves. The extent to which a populace falls back on superstition or violence can be traced to the ignorance in which their elites have managed to keep them, the ill-treatment they have suffered and the despair into which a combination of ignorance and suffering have driven them. [...] It’s not that everyone must understand everything; but those who are not experts must see that they are being dealt with openly and honestly; that they are part of the process of an integrated civilization. They will understand and participate to the best of their ability. If excluded they will treat the elites with an equal contempt”.
Bombers in London are suffering from a lack of imagination, by which they can’t relate to society at large. I’m reminded of something Mark Kingwell wrote ten years ago discussing crime statistics in the U.S. and noting that for some the conditions of poverty were so severe that going to jail was a step up, guaranteeing shelter and three meals a day. (Such motivations have also led many people into the military over the past couple of centuries as well).
One then begins to see that these suicide bombers are trying to escape their lives. And, as the media would like us to think – they all appear normal, aren’t in dire poverty. They always come across as a middle-class, albeit in some cases, lower middle class. Instead, we have a situation analogous to the suicides of Canada’s north, where the Inuit children, after years of sniffing gasoline for cheap and brain-destructive highs, are hanging or shooting themselves. We have a pretty good idea as to why those kids are self-destructive, and that is because ‘they have no culture’, the story being that the misguided intentions of a century ago to assimilate the native populations did terrible damage to their sense of self as a culture, and in effect, destroyed their imaginations. The imagination of themselves and their place in the world, in the grand scheme of things.
And so, I want to say that suicide bombers are suffering from a lack of imagination. That they are choosing to die, and to escape into the paradisiacal world (the only thing, one imagines, that has preoccupied their imagination for years) rather than continuing to live their dreary, industrialized, modernist, post-modernist, (or whatever other name we throw at it) lives.
Those of us who despise reality television and other aspects of pop culture choose do so because we feel that we have better things to occupy our imagination – great books, the art of contemporary galleries – ‘cinema’ as opposed to Hollywood blockbusters…. but if you’re a child of immigrants, and don’t identify either with your parents or fully with your peers, and instead your imagination is stimulated by religion …. it doesn’t seem to be so mysterious now does it, why these kids would do what they do.
We imagine ourselves, develop ambitions, or at least have plans for the future – next vacation and so forth. Imagining ourselves and our place in the world is terribly important in helping give us a sense of context, and in carrying out our daily activities. Our love for stories feeds this sense of imagination – and we feel more alive when our life is echoed in the imagination – it is a resonance chamber by which we build symphonies of meaning.
The tension in St. John’s is one of two imaginative visions: an elite version (which I suppose would be Laurin’s camp) and one down-home version (the CEO’s camp). Now, admittedly, I’m not in St. John’s and am only working with what I’ve read (today’s links) but let’s look at it according to Saul’s take on elitism. I believe, as does Saul, that people want what’s best. That only seems like common sense. Yes, the elites, and especially art-elites, do form a sort of tribe which treats people outside of it with an element of contempt. They think they are engaged in what’s best. They think that the lobster-trap craft folk are uneducated and misguided and have the blinders on towards ‘what’s best’. Hence, tension.
Ok, that being said, it does seem to me that Craig Power has a point where he writes, “Newfoundlanders have a reputation for being stupid, inbred and drunk. With the events of the past week and a half, is there any reason to wonder why?” having set it up by saying, “Wanda Mooney, a career government administrator, has been installed as interim director. … I don’t know what this woman’s knowledge of art history or contemporary art practice is, but I do know that if you Google her name, you find out that she used to be the woman you called if you wanted to rent space or book a reception at the old provincial gallery. How this qualifies her to run the gallery on even an interim basis, I don’t know, but I can hardly wait to see this visionary at work.”
Perhaps that’s unfair. But the point here is that according to the attitude among artists in St. John’s, the Board of Directors and CEO are suffering from a lack of imagination, one that in itself is contemptuous of the public at large. One that assumes tourists want to travel to foggy and cold St. John’s to see a bunch of folk-art crap, when they could be treated to the best of what contemporary culture has to offer.
But, the point I’m trying to make by bringing up London and my thoughts therein are that treating The Rooms with the contempt with which it has been treated, first by the Provincial Government, which kept it closed for a year, and now with Laurin’s dismissal, is stunting the imagination of Newfoundlanders, a place which so far has imagined itself as backward and victimized, and been rewarded by doing so by a Kevin Spacey movie. Laurin’s purported vision to give the citizens of St. John’s the quality of culture they deserve (that is, the best) and to resist mediocre crap, is admirable, and it’s unfortunate that another Maritime art scandal has resulted in the process. But here we also seem to be dealing with the backlash of ‘the excluded’ toward the elites (who have excluded by obscurantist writing and snotty attitudes for a century now) by treating them with ‘an equal contempt’.
Let’s just say that nobody has a monopoly on the imagination, but London also illustrates that it’s important to foster the best imaginations society has to offer.
I still think it’s safe to ride the subway.
I’m tempted to say ‘get a grip’ but it seems that the only people freaking out about the potential for terrorism in Canada, and in Toronto for that matter, are the news editors at the traditional outlets. I mean, remember a week ago, under these sweltering blue skies, when talk was on how crappy the Live 8 was and how the biggest threat to Canada was Karla Homolka, that psychopathic windbag who threatened to blow and blow and blow until our whole civil society came crashing down?
And then, Thursday morning, in London England, some bombs go off. Suddenly, Canada’s provincial sense of inferiority is nowhere to be found. Suddenly, all of our insecurities about not being able to play with the big boys are gone, because ‘oh my god, we’re next!’
Now, all we need is one or more nut-jobs to render what I’m saying here obsolete fast. But let’s not be superstitious about it. Let’s not think that just because I’m saying it ain’t gonna happen here means I’m jinxing it or something else. Granted, we should be vigilant. Granted, we certainly hope it won’t happen here. But I want to say this. I don’t think it’s going to happen here.
I say this with a sense of self-confidence, me, a pipsqueak citizen. The same self-confidence that our Ministers seem to lack in order to reassure the public. The same sense of self-confidence I use whenever I drive onto the 401. Sure, I could get killed, but why today? I know what I’m doing and I have to assume the other driving along do as well.
It would seem that our leadership doesn’t know what it’s doing. Let’s go over some points.
1. Ann McLellan sucks
I think back to October 2001 when suddenly she was the Iron Lady who was going to clamp down on our civil liberties and make sure that Canada wasn’t the so called terrorist haven that CBC documentaries would make it seem to be. Now she’s saying Canadians aren’t psychologically prepared for terrorism, which is a big help. Wonderful leadership. And what, pray tell, would be evidence that we are ready? And, with our history of bloodshed, why the hell should we be?
I’ll tell you about my psychological preparation for terrorism: after Sept 11, ‘life is short’ entered my vocabulary. Further, I developed an impatience described as ‘life is too short to put up with this bullshit’. Who wants to go to work one morning unprepared to become a skydiver and think of all the time we wasted listening to know-nothings and bastards? We all deserve better than the mediocre crap we are asked to put up with, and we deserve better than a Public Safety Minister like Ms. McLellan.
Prior to 9/11, I was dealing with a bout of hypochondria. Worried about this ache and that itch, suddenly the prospect of not seeing the end of a day that began with stupid anxiety was brought to my attention on repeat and with colourful graphics and passionate voiceovers. I learned on that day that one could go at any time, and I, in my practically atheistic way, said, ‘My life is in God’s hands’. We only have so much control over our lives, and let’s focus on what we can manage, and if our fate is to die because some jerk is trying to prove a point then well, what can you do?
2. John Bull’s Eye
London England – 2000 years old, long history of violence. Mobs there used to cart heads around on the end of pikes, but we’ve forgotten that. The news keeps talking about the Blitz, and something about the IRA (remember them)? London, England, home of the British Empire, which has been condemned by every politically correct academic for the past 40 years. London, where, in the months since September 2001, we have regular reports talking of terrorist drills, broken up rings, arrests made, and incidents quashed. Home to 7.5 million people. That’s a full 1/4th of Canada’s population right there. (All of Canada = 4 Londons).
Now, I raise this to say, of all the places in the world, after New York, it makes sense for bombs to go off in London.
History of violence and terrorism on a scale of 1 to 10: 10.
History of violence and terrorism in Toronto:1
(I’ll give it a 1 since there’s at least one shooting every weekend, and I don’t think we’ve had mob violence since the 1830s.)
3. Al Qaeda is a Phantom Menace
The best explanation of what’s happened over the past 4 years I’ve encountered has been Adam Curtis’s, The Power of Nightmares. This was broadcast on CBC Newsworld last spring, and was available on the Internet. The video has been take offline, but here you find a transcript of the episode I’m talking about. Now, The Power of Nightmares is a pretty straightforward account of the rise of both fundamentalist thinking in the States (in terms of the Religious Right, and the Neo-Con hawks) and of the Mid East. And here, we are told that Al Qaeda (essentially) doesn’t really exist. The story goes that in the aftermath of the 1998 Kenyan bombings, when the United States put one of the people they caught on trial in New York, they wanted to try Bin Laden in absentia. To do this, they needed to be able to claim/prove that he was part of an organized crime ring – these laws were developed to fight the Mafia. So, they get this fellow to tell a story about something called Al Qaeda, which is Arabic for ‘the Base’. Here, I might as well quote it:
“JASON BURKE , AUTHOR, AL QAEDA During the investigation of the 1998 bombings, there is a walk-in source, Jamal al-Fadl, who is a Sudanese militant who was with bin Laden in the early 90s, who has been passed around a whole series of Middle East secret services, none of whom want much to do with him, and who ends up in America and is taken on by-uh-the American government, effectively, as a key prosecution witness and is given a huge amount of American taxpayers’ money at the same time. And his account is used as raw material to build up a picture of Al Qaeda. The picture that the FBI want to build up is one that will fit the existing laws that they will have to use to prosecute those responsible for the bombing. Now, those laws were drawn up to counteract organised crime: the Mafia, drugs crime, crimes where people being a member of an organisation is extremely important. You have to have an organisation to get a prosecution. And you have al-Fadl and a number of other witness, a number of other sources, who are happy to feed into this. You’ve got material that, looked at in a certain way, can be seen to show this organisation’s existence. You put the two together and you get what is the first bin Laden myth – the first Al Qaeda myth. And because it’s one of the first, it’s extremely influential.”
The idea of global network of sleeper cells financed by Bin Laden is built up in the days after 9/11 by the NeoCons who want more money for the military-industrial complex. One of the main theses in The Power of Nightmares was that the core of NeoCons – Wolfowitz, Rummy, and the two Dicks (Cheney and Perle) had a long history of over-demonizing America’s enemy – whether it be USSR, or Ayatollah Khomeini (which lead to their support to Saddam Hussein in the 80s), to Saddam himself, and finally, prior to Bin Laden, Bill Clinton.
An arms race of nuclear weapons or a blow job – it was all the same to those jerks cause it got play on CNN and created an anti-Liberal culture unified by a common threat.
Al Qaeda then, would seem to be an elaborate fantasy. And perhaps this knowledge is worth spreading around. Funny though how traditional media haven’t really gotten into it.
The point I want to make here though is that when our city is marred, as it is from time to time, by hate graffiti against whatever ethnic group, CBC isn’t blaming it on an elaborate network of the Aryan Brotherhood. No, we assume it’s a bunch of punks. A bunch of local grown assholes, perhaps inspired by some underground hate-lit or vid. I’m thinking terrorism is working the same way today. Bin Laden might be the hate-pamphleteer, the author of the video Mein Kamp’s that supposedly make the rounds from mosque to mosque, attracting young romantic Islamists to training camps. But we’re dealing with a bunch of independent groups I think, local grown assholes. (And it should be pointed out that we aren’t even sure that Islamists were behind it yet).
London, apparently, had them. Does Toronto? That’s the question. If they do, then…
4. CSIS is incompetent?
John Ralston Saul’s anger toward the word ‘inevitable’ when used by economists and politicians to describe ‘globalizing forces’ over the past 30 years has sharpened me to being angry with the likes of McLellan and all these other so called experts. For them to sit there, on TV, and say, ‘oh, it’s gonna happen here …’ is an admittance of incompetence. It’s like they’re saying, ‘yeah, there are terrorist cells in Canada, we know that, and yeah, they’re probably planning something, but we can’t do anything about it.’ Are they still investigating Jadhi Singh I suppose? Going after the Raging Granies? Or, are they just covering their do-nothing asses by saying it’ll happen here in case something actually does and they were too busy eating donuts?
Basically, scare mongering isn’t going to help anyone. Further, I don’t see why Canada could be seriously considered a target for someone like Bin Laden. For impressionable young bastards from Markham …. who knows? But they’d have to build their bombs first, which would involve the procurement of materials and probably the access of certain websites. CTV and CBC would still rather tell us about the arrests of the local kiddie porn pervert than report such news. What does CSIS know? What aren’t we being told? But is it possible that in effect, there is nothing really to tell?
‘Report anything suspicious’. Right. One time I was on the Go Train and there was what I thought a suspicious package there. This was last winter or something. I have to parse this in light of all the paranoia. I think, ‘do I really want to bring the entire Go System to a complete stop just because some careless person forgot something?’ I decided to switch cars. I watched a Go employee walk right past it.
2nd story – CBC reports that VIA rail is investigating a security breach after a CBC employee boarded a train, entered the baggage area, and wasn’t checked for a ticket. I remember in 1995, riding from Moncton to Halifax, and talking with a girl who was careful to not run into the employees cause she was riding without a ticket. She made it sound bohemian and romantic. And I bring that up to say – I bet people ride VIA all the time without tickets. Perhaps this is Canada’s dirty little secret. Do you know someone who freeloaded a VIA ride?
And while we’re on the subject, I’ll bring up that I hate this type of reporter vigilantism. Remember how the Globe and Mail’s Jan Wong, in the months after 9/11, boarded a plane with what was then contraband – box cutter or the like? And then she writes about it as if things are so awful. The same woman who once spent an hour and half looking for kiddie porn in order to prove that it takes that long to find? Why aren’t these people arrested? If I was recruiting terrorists, I’d consider seducing reporters. It would seem a Press Pass is more valuable than a security clearance badge at the airport. You can get away with anything!
Reporter antics do not prove that security is lax. It might prove that these people, whose pictures often accompany their articles, or are seen on tv, are in effect ‘known’ by security. Jan Wong for example – shows up at the airport, has a knife in her purse, and is waived through because it’s known that she’s a just a reporter, and the thought is, ‘why would she do anything?’
The problem with vigilance, when talking about transportation systems, or in whatever other context, is that people are going to be preoccupied with what to them will be significant concerns. ‘I just want to get home,’ ‘I have to make this appointment’. ‘I don’t want to cause a scene…’
Do you remember the fellow in an American airport, who was seen running down an up-escalator? This was in November 2001. Anyway, because he ran down an escalator that was going up, because he was running late, he freaked out security, caused a scene, shut down the airport, and was arrested. He went to jail.
So, you shut down the subway system, inconvenience thousands including yourself, because someone forgot their umbrella, you won’t be called a hero, or congratulated for being vigilant in an era of paranoia. You’ll be vilified.
Now, I’m not saying this to discourage vigilance, or to say it doesn’t matter – I am though, simply trying to articulate what I think most of us would think when considering to hit the alarm strip. The TTC and Go Transit needs to do more to reassure us that we are allowed to do so because otherwise, ‘misuse can lead to fine or imprisonment’.
End the mixed messages and the scarmongering please. And I’ll see you on the subway.